Heathrow, London. Here we are waiting to board our flight to Italy and the established wine destination of Piedmont.
England is not so fortunate; very few people acknowledge that English wines deserve ranking as among world class regions. As our guide at Denbies (Surrey) commented, “English wines are not a joke anymore.”
It has been an eye-opening visit and a confirmation of what I suspected: English wines can be as good as any I’ve tasted. Their strong suit is and will be sparkling wines. I venture to say that in a blind tasting of British sparkling wines (there is a movement to refer to them as “Merrett” after the person who discovered the process before Dom Perignon, according to the British.)
Mardi Roberts, one of the owners of Ridgeview Vineyards, pointed out to me that we were literally 90 miles away from Epernay, the heart of the Champagne region. The soil composition is strikingly similar- limestone- remember the white cliffs of Dover!- and the warmer climate and the growing conditions are very Champagne-like. Add to that the care and knowledge in the vineyards and the winery and you end up with a superb wine.
Ironically it was an American couple, Sandy Moss and his wife, who introduced the same grapes used in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Nyetimber is no longer owned by them but the evolution continues and it is probably the top sparkling – Merrett- wine in Britain.
But it’s not alone; there are over 400 wineries scattered throughout Britain but the preponderance of the best ones are found in SouthWest England: Kent, Sussex and Surrey.
You can find some of the best in the States: Ridgeview is on the list at 3 New York restaurants. As production increases- which it is- the chances are you’ll see British wines in local wines shops. But the largest winery, Chapel Down, only makes 700,000 bottles.
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